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The Dawn of a Legend and the Shadow of Scandal: Baseball's Decade of Contrasts
"Baseball" Episode Three Review
Before I dive into the nitty gritty of this review, I think it is important to point out how this truly is essential watching for any baseball fan. If you are reading this or coming across our Twitter and have never watched this series, you need to stop what you are doing, look in the mirror, slap yourself, and stream it, or buy the Blu-Ray. Something I have noticed in baseball Twitter is a lack of knowledge from the “personalities” on the history of baseball. This is most evident when you see immaculate grids with no one before the year 2000 on them.
Today, we're taking a swing at Episode 3, "The Faith of Fifty Million People," an episode that presents us with a stark duality - the rise of a sports icon(take a guess) and a scandal that shook baseball to its core. I think it is a scandal that is very relevant over a century later. I will dive into that later.
For background here are some of the major players covered in this episode.
No discussion of this period would be complete without mention of the legendary George Herman "Babe" Ruth. Beginning his major league career as a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, Ruth soon became more famous for his powerful batting. At this point in his career he is still a pitcher/hitter and his persona has not yet become known to the American public.
Another significant player of this era was Tyrus Raymond "Ty" Cobb. Known as the "Georgia Peach," Cobb played for the Detroit Tigers and was renowned for his aggressive style and fierce competitiveness. His .366 career batting average still remains the highest in Major League Baseball history. Despite his personal controversies, his impact on the game is undeniable.
Eddie Cicotte and "Shoeless" Joe Jackson
Two of the key figures in the Black Sox Scandal were pitcher Eddie Cicotte and outfielder "Shoeless" Joe Jackson. Cicotte was one of the era's best pitchers, while Jackson was among the top hitters and still holds the third-highest career batting average in history. Their involvement in the scandal ended what could have been hall-of-fame careers.
Another significant player from this period was Christy Mathewson. A pitcher for the New York Giants, Mathewson was one of the first five players inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. He was not only known for his pitching prowess but also for his integrity and sportsmanship, a stark contrast to the tainted players involved in the Black Sox Scandal. A scandal in which he pointed out many of the plays that the Black Sox purposely botched. He was known as the “Christian Gentleman” and would never play on Sundays. During World War I he enlisted in the United States Army much to his wive’s dismay. He served in the same chemical service unit as former rival Ty Cobb. However, he was gassed during a training exercise, severely damaging his lungs. He would live out the rest of his life weakened by the event and eventually passed in 1925 from tuberculosis.
Win-loss record: 373-188
The episode opens with an intense focus on Ty Cobb, an aggressive competitor who kept audiences on their toes. However, the real star of this era, emerging from the dugouts, was George Herman Ruth Jr., popularly known as Babe Ruth. This episode does not take too much time to talk about Ruth(episode 4 is all about him), but it sets the stage and shows some of his time in Boston.
The 1910s weren't just about baseball. The period was marked by World War I, which cast a long, unavoidable shadow over the sport. The United States managed to stay out of the conflict for the majority of the conflict. It was the first modern war, and millions had already died in the trenches. However, after a number of events that I will not b
Despite the turmoil, baseball served as a beacon of constancy and comfort. It was the most popular form of entertainment in the country, and the owners would never allow it to stop. While the owners tried to prevent their boys from going to Europe, the government drafted them all the same. Many volunteered to go and fight for their country. Unlike what we will see in WWII, America’s involvement in WWI was short and many of the players returned home quickly.
The Scandal that Shook the Sport
In the annals of baseball history, the 1919 World Series stands out as a moment of notorious infamy. Eight players from the Chicago White Sox – hence the label "Black Sox" – were implicated in a scheme to throw the Series in favor of the Cincinnati Reds.
The eight players were: Eddie Cicotte, Oscar "Happy" Felsch, Arnold "Chick" Gandil, "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, Fred McMullin, Charles "Swede" Risberg, George "Buck" Weaver, and Claude "Lefty" Williams.
The scheme was orchestrated by Chick Gandil, the first baseman, in cooperation with known gambler Joseph "Sport" Sullivan(in reality it was Arnold Rothstein). The lure? A handsome payoff of around $100,000(split amongst the players) – a fortune in those days. The players were promised varying amounts, but the agreed sum was never fully paid. Jackson, for example, only received $5,000 of the $20,000 he was promised. Something he would admit in court.
Everyone “in” baseball knew what was going on. It was evident from the play on the field that the players were not giving their full effort. However, after the gamblers failed to pay the players, many started to try and win. Many have tried to make the case to pardon Jackson. The defense for Jackson is that he hit over .370 in the series. However, that does not take into account his defense and certain hitting opportunities.
The scandal didn't come to light for the public until a full year later. The players were acquitted in a 1921 public trial, but the damage had been done. Baseball's first Commissioner, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, determined to restore the sport's integrity, banned all eight players from professional baseball for life. Baseball was now crooked in the eyes of the public, and it needed a savior. The savior was a boy from Baltimore who would go on to become one of the most well-known names in world history.
Primarily, this episode focused on the corruption that began to seep into the sport due to the players getting paid so little and essentially being the owners' property. Now, I know that today, players make a stupid amount of money playing these sports, so the thought of them throwing games seems far-fetched. I also know that there have been suspensions and bans because of players’ gambling. Regardless, I look at how prominent gambling has become in all major sports. I mean look at the deal ESPN just made to have their own app. The speed at which sports media went from covering sports to covering sports gambling has been supersonic. Now, I will admit that I am not a fan of gambling and do not partake in it outside of fantasy sports. However, young athletes are now growing up in a world where gambling is becoming rampant across the country and in every sport. The United States set a record last year with over $54.9 BILLION dollars in revenue from gambling. The revenue in the MLB the same year you ask? $10.32 billion. If you don’t think their will be corruption in the next decade you better wake up.
World Series Winners
1910: Philadelphia Athletics
1911: Philadelphia Athletics
1912: Boston Red Sox
1913: Philadelphia Athletics
1914: Boston Braves
1915: Boston Red Sox
1916: Boston Red Sox
1917: Chicago White Sox
1918: Boston Red Sox
1919: Cincinnati Reds*
1920: Cleveland Indians
*The 1919 World Series is marred by the Black Sox Scandal, wherein eight players from the Chicago White Sox conspired to intentionally lose the Series.
The period was marked by strong performances from the Philadelphia Athletics and the Boston Red Sox. Nevertheless, the shadow of the Black Sox Scandal looms large over this decade of baseball history.